How to write a successful covering letter
University of Kent Careers and Employability Service.
Why do you need a covering letter?
|“My pet hates: incomplete and inaccurate application forms, no covering letter, poor grammar and spelling, careless handwriting and letters written on scrap paper”
Partner in firm of solicitors.
The covering letter is vital to your CV. This is why it is the first page and not an addition. “Please find enclosed my CV” won’t get you very far.
Your covering letter demonstrates your writing style better than your CV (which is usually more brief and factual).
The covering letter puts flesh on the bare bones of the CV. It points out to the employer the information showing that you have the qualities the job calls for, and makes a statement about yourself and your suitability for the job. It should give the personal touch that your CV will intrinsically lack.
A survey in the US of employers found that
- 42.9% wanted candidates to submit a cover letter for each position.
- 29.8% felt that they were not important (“I don’t have the time to read them anyway”)
- 27.4% had no preference
How long should your covering letter be?
In the same survey above
- 19% of employers preferred a full page
- 46% preferred half a page
- 11% had no preference
- 24% felt the shorter the better!
The key point here is that it should never be longer than one page long.
Find a quiet place to write your letter …..
Who should you address your letter to?
Try to find the name of the person to write to. Research by Forum3 found that those who included a letter with their CV were 10% more likely to receive a reply and those who addressed the covering letter and envelope to the correct named person were 15% more likely to receive a letter of acknowledgement and 5% more likely to gain an interview. They also found that 60% of CVs are mailed to the wrong person, with the managing director being the main beneficiary of the unsolicited mail.
|Think of a covering letter as a glass of brandy. It’s a short measure, quite potent, you’ll know very quickly if you like it or not, and it’s very easy to judge the quality.
A CV is more like a glass of wine. It’s a bit longer, and while like brandy it’s basically fermented fruit juice it takes more time to grade, and probably a bit more skill.
David Welsh, Richmond Solutions
A recent survey by Saddleback College in the USA found that the preferred salutions of HR managers were:
- Dear Hiring Manager, 38.1% (I’m not so sure that this is right for the UK!)
- Dear Sir/Madam, 17.9%
- Dear Human Resource Director, 9.5%
- To whom it may concern, 26.2%
- Leave it blank if you don’t know the name. 8.3%
“We would recommend to students that they think carefully about how to re-write at least their covering letter, and possibly also their CV specifically for the post they are applying for. The best applications were succinct and clear, with unfussy covering letters and CVs.
|A survey of 500 employers and 2,000 consumers by the jobsite Foosle found that 60% of employers think CVs don’t accurately represent people applying for jobs in their organisations. Many candidates use buzz words they think employers wish to hear. ‘Hard-working’, ‘team player’ and ‘motivated’ were the most over-used words on CVs making them meaningless to employers and doing little to make candidates stand out.|
It is also always worth checking over a covering letter before sending it, as there were silly errors such as spelling mistakes or the covering letter written for a different placement. A good idea that we saw surprisingly little of is to list the competencies that the job advert says are being looked for, and outline how and why you fulfil those competencies. “
The writing rules of George Orwell
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive voice (e.g. “Bones are liked by dogs”) where you can use the active voice (“Dogs like bones”).
- Never use jargon if you can think of an everyday equivalent.
Does your surname matter?
Researchers at Cambridge University found that, if your surname is King or Prince, you are more likely to be a manager, whereas those with more “common” names such as Cook or Baker are more likely to end up in blue-collar jobs.
What do employers look for in covering letters?
- 33% Tailored skills from the job description
- 26% Clarity (well-written, formatted, specifying job applied to)
- 20% Details from your CV (additional accomplishments, explanation of any gaps, etc.)
- 19% Your value, not the basics, why we should hire you
- 18% Spelling & grammar
- 17% Personal vision & uniqueness
- 12% Brevity
- 10% I never read them!
Suggested structure for your covering letter:
|If you start with a name (e.g. “Dear Mr Bloggs”) you should end with “Yours sincerely“. If you start with “Dear Sir or Madam” you should end with “Yours faithfully“.
Put your covering letter as the body of your email. It’s wise to format it as plain text as then it can be read by any email reader.
|“As an employer who’s just gone through recruiting a graduate, I’d say about 50% of graduates sent me a pro-forma letter and standard CV, with no attempt at matching their skills and experience to those on the job specification.
Several had either got my company’s name wrong, or left in the name of the organisation that they had previously applied to. A good 30% of the cover letters were between four and six pages long and a number had used CV templates without removing the format.
But those who can write a relevant cover letter and CV stand out like diamonds and are a joy to shortlist.”
Emails are not as easy to read as letters. Stick to simple text with short paragraphs and plenty of spacing. Break messages into points and make each one a new paragraph with a full line gap between paragraphs. DON’T “SHOUT” (WRITE IN UPPER CASE!) Your CV is then sent as an attachment. Say you’ll send a printed CV if required.
If you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to, it’s probably best to use the formal Dear Sir or Madam and to sign off Yours Sincerely or Yours Faithfully (see above).
If they have already emailed you, reply back in the same style, so if they have signed their email “Jenny”, write Dear Jenny, but if they have signed it “Ms Smith”, write Dear Ms Smith.
If they have emailed you and addressed you Hi Dave, then it’s OK to reply Hi Jenny.
Also mirror the way they sign off, if they use “regards“, “best wishes”, then it’s safe to do the same.
For more about this see the excellent BBC article Should e-mails open with Dear, Hi, or Hey?
How should you start it? Survey of covering letter opening lines.
Here are the most common opening lines from a sample of covering letters by University of Kent students (numbers of occurrences in brackets)
- Now see our Covering Letter Examples
- Also see our other pages on making applications including on-line applications.
- If you are having difficulty with any part of your CV or covering letter, you can consult the duty careers adviser from 10.30a.m. – 12.30 p.m. and from 2.00 – 5.00 p.m., Monday to Friday.
How not to write a covering letter:
Content Source: University of Kent Careers and Employability Service
Resumes- cover letter is to get the attention of the hiring manager.
The goal in a cover letter is to get the attention of the hiring manager. Use this article to help write your own.
Cover letter writing is almost as important a skill for a job seeker to learn as resume writing. The cover letter accompanies the resume at all times as the primary support document. Whether you use traditional mail, email, faxing, or another type of electronic submission, this should always be sent with the resume. There are, of course, other tools you’ll use when job seeking. Your cover letter and resume come first of course, followed by follow-up letters, thank-you letters for after the interview, reference sheets, salary histories, and job acceptance letters. If you have good cover letter writing skills, and good resume writing skills, the other written tools should be a snap to compose.
Your goal in this is to get the attention of the hiring manager, just as it is with resume writing. The method and format are a little different however. Your resume will cover all, or most of your professional career, and will be from one to two pages. Your cover letter will be a very brief page serving as an introduction to the resume. Cover letter writing style must be direct, to the point, and able to grab the attention of the reader quickly, with a goal of making the reader want to read the attached resume.
Many people, when engaged in this type of writing, have a tendency to say too much. Good cover letter writing is short and punchy, and will take two or three key points from the resume and emphasize them. The old adage “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” holds true in both resume writing and cover letter writing.
As an example, let’s assume that you are a materials handling manager for a defense contractor, seeking another position. In your line of work the buzz words are MRP, lean manufacturing, ISO 9000, and cost savings. Your writing efforts should reflect these buzz words to show your value to your current employer and any future employers. Your resume will go into more detail about how you accomplished these goals. The cover letter will simply point out to the hiring manager that you accomplished them. An example of this would be two bulleted paragraphs in the body of the letter that say….
• Experienced in quality assurance and quality control, MRP, ISO 9000, QS 9000, and Lean Manufacturing.
• Demonstrated results in saving significant money for employers through cost savings, inventory level reductions, and on-time supplier delivery.
The hiring manager, according to many surveys, devotes only about fifteen seconds to each resume and cover letter he or she reviews. With that in mind your writing skills need to be top notch to get this person to look at your resume. Your resume writing skills need to be just as good to get the reader to want to grant you an interview. In turn, your interviewing skills need to be excellent to get the hiring manager to offer you the position. This long, and hopefully positive chain of events begins with good cover letter writing skills and ends with job satisfaction and a nice paycheck.
Published on JOBCOM. Jobs.mvnoblog.com